BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Several Southeast Asian countries are seeing record numbers of people infected with dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus for which there is currently no approved vaccine or specific drug treatment, local media said.
More than 40,000 people in Thailand's capital Bangkok are suffering from the world's fastest spreading tropical disease while up to 150,000 people nationwide may have come down with the virus since the beginning of the year, the National News Bureau in Thailand (NNT) said on Tuesday.
According to officials, 50 people have died in Thailand from the fever.
In Laos, 44 people have died and more than 11,000 people have come down with the virus since the start of 2013, raising concerns the number of infections could exceed the 2010 record of 23,000 infections and 46 deaths, according to the Thai daily newspaper, The Nation.
Channel News Asia said the city-state of Singapore had also recorded more than 11,000 cases so far this year, including 853 cases in the past week alone, an all-time high. So far, two people have died.
In Myanmar, the health authorities warned last week that the country could be in the grip of a dengue fever epidemic with the number of reported cases this year already surpassing that of the whole of 2012, the Burmese Irrawaddy website said.
It quoted Myanmar's ministry of health as saying 6,448 people have been infected so far and 13 patients have died. In 2012, the ministry recorded 6,033 dengue fever cases and 27 deaths.
Malaysia is also seeing an increase in cases. The World Health Organisation's (WHO) update on June 13 showing a caseload of 10,401 cases, compared to 10,352 for the same period last year.
Twenty-two people, including two toddlers, have so far died of the virus, Malaysian news outlet, The Star, said.
In April, experts said around 390 million people are infected with dengue fever each year, more than triple WHO's current estimate of 50-100 million a year.
The researchers from the University of Oxford and the Wellcome Trust estimated that 70 percent of the world's serious dengue cases were in Asia, with India alone accounting for 34 percent of the total.
The dengue virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which has grown rapidly along with urbanisation and globalisation because it thrives in tropical mega-cities and is easily spread in goods containing small puddles of water.
Climate change is also making more parts of the planet habitable for the dengue-spreading mosquito, experts say.
As a result, half the world's population is now exposed to the disease, mostly in the developing world - but also in parts of southern Europe and the southern United States.